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The Story: Last fall, I spoke at a retreat for Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Evangelical Student Fellowship.  The topic I chose to speak about was Truth. Evangelicals like truth, and they like to defend it when they feel that truth is under attack.  I took a slightly different approach: The Gospel of John says that Jesus is Truth. And if Truth is a person, then Truth is more than an abstract idea to be defended. Taking it a step further, in John 3:21, Jesus says that one who “practices the Truth comes to the Light”.  If Jesus is Truth, and if in Christ we’re called to become more and more Christlike, then we’re called to act truthfully, do the truth, practice the truth. With this in mind, my talks for the retreat became a call to seek truthfulness and integrity in our personal lives and our ministries. The talks seemed to be well received.  I started thinking that maybe this idea of practicing the truth deserved more attention.

Then this spring, I attended the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College.  I knew ahead of time that publishers there would be open to receiving book proposals, so I started putting together  a book proposal for Practicing the Truth. I wasn’t able to complete the proposal in time for the Festival, but after encouraging conversations with several people there, I returned home, finished the proposal and sent it in to an editor I had met.  A few weeks went by.  Then I got an email.  They wanted a second sample chapter.  This was getting exciting.  I wrote the second sample chapter and sent it in.  A couple more weeks went by, and then I got an email from an editor saying that my ideas didn’t fit within the genre of that particular line of books (understandable) and that my platform wasn’t yet developed enough (i.e. my name isn’t famous enough to sell books, also understandable). That was a bit discouraging. But I am encouraged that my proposal was seriously considered. And the amount of positive feedback I’ve received in talking to others about this project over the past couple months far outweighs one rejection.  So, I’m going to keep writing . . .

The Idea: I’m working with this title in mind: Practicing the Truth: The Spiritual Discipline of Living Truthfully.  For more on the ideas and structure of the book, read the Practicing the Truth page on this blog. The general goal of the book will be to present dedication to truth and integrity as a spiritual discipline which conforms us to the likeness of Christ, who is Truth.  I think that when Christians practice such dedication to truth, we’ll see powerful transformation in our relationships, our spiritual lives, our mental health, and our ministries.

Moving Forward: (1) At the advice of a close friend, I’m going to keep on writing, but do so with the congregation I pastor in mind. If these ideas are of value, they’ll be of value to the community I find myself in right now. And if this is a book which calls us to greater openness, honesty, and authenticity, then the process of writing it should be marked by those characteristics. So starting in August or September, I’ll roll out one chapter per month.  Those from Upper Room who’ve expressed interest are invited to read the chapter, and then gather as a group with me for an evening of conversation about the ideas presented in that month’s chapter. I pray that God will use this to make us even more into a community of honesty, authenticity, and integrity. I also think this will make it a better book. Friends from Upper Room, if you want to be involved in reading the chapters as they come out and discussing them, just let me know. (2) I’ll also keep blogging about topics or illustrations which are relevant to the content of the book. Posts which are related in one way or another to the theme of the book will show up under the category “Practicing the Truth.” Keep checking back to see where this project is going. (3) I may submit my proposal to other publishers. We’ll see what happens. For right now, though, the priority will be on writing for my congregation. If the Lord wills that this will be used to bless a broader audience, then let the Lord’s will be done.  If the Lord wants only the people of Upper Room to grow in truthfulness as a result of this writing, the let the Lord’s will be done.

Thank you, friends, for joining me on this journey towards the One who is Truth!

In less than two months, I’m going to attend the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College.  I first heard of this festival shortly after I graduated college, where I had double-majored in Religious Studies and Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry.  Faith and writing were both obviously close to my heart, so I was immediately interested in the Festival.  Then seminary happened, and for several years schoolwork took precedent over writing for the sake of writing.  Now, I write mostly sermons and blogposts (here and for the House of St. Michael), but writing is still one of the most life-giving activities in which I engage. And I want to write more.

So, one of my goals for 2012 is to sharpen my writing skills. To do so I’ve both been writing more often and reading about writing.  Earlier this month, I read several essays from A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art (Paraclete Press 2008).  Some of my favorite writers have essays in this book, including Scott Cairns, whose essay on poetry made me hunger for The Lord’s Supper.  But the chapter that left me thinking the most was by Richard Foster.  In it, Foster describes the work of “spiritual writing.”  In this genre, you might include the great devotional writings of Church history, the sort of books listed in 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, as well as the hundreds of other spiritual classics that didn’t make that list.  They’re books that have shaped the Church as a whole by shaping the souls of countless individual Christians over the centuries.  Spiritual writing, as Foster puts it, is “heart writing. It aims at the interiority of the reader: the heart, the spirit, the will. Spiritual writing is highly relational.  It is personal.  It is in close.  It is intimate.  It is never at arm’s length. Never.” (p. 169). And because spiritual writing is up close and personal it cannot leave the reader untouched.  The best leaves the reader transformed.

So what advice is there for a young writer who wants to write works that transform people spiritually?   Foster says “As writers, our first incarnational task is to be ourselves filled with this life we are talking about” (p. 173).  To be a spiritual writer, you have to be spiritual.  So Foster advises that we learn to listen.  “The best spiritual writing comes out of the silence.  As writers, we learn to be quiet and still; listening, always listening” (p. 172).  And listening includes reading the works of those who were filled with the life they wrote about: The “best way to understand spiritual writing is to read the best of these writers throughout history” (p. 178).  Listening, praying, worshiping, acting, learning, submitting, reading – this is how we start to live the life we want to write.

I think the act of writing itself can be added to the list of practices one must live and internalize in order to become a spiritual writer. I have a long journey ahead of me as I seek maturity in Christ, but I take comfort in the fact that writing is also a process of discovery. And that means writing is a process that can be used by the Spirit to lead the writer to greater maturity in Christ. Every time I sit down to write, I’m surprised by the final product.   Henri Nouwen, one of the most well-known spiritual writers of the twentieth century, describes the act of writing as a process, a revelation, and a journey.  These sentences from Nouwen’s Reflections on Theological Education (as quoted in Philip Yancey’s book Soul Survivor [Doubleday 2001] p. 298) show what this means:

Most students think that writing means writing down ideas, insights, visions.  They feel that they must first have something to say before they can put it down on paper.  For them writing is little more than recording a pre-existent thought. But with this approach true writing is impossible.  Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us.  The writing itself reveals what is alive. . . . The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write.  To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know.

I want to embark on that sort of journey.  Or rather, I want to continue the journey the Holy Spirit is already leading me on, one which is still a process of discovery, opening up new spaces.  All I know about my destination is that I want to seek the Kingdom of God.  And I want to write as I travel the path that leads to Life.